I ate some seriously incredible curries on my travels around Asia. Creamy sag (spinach) paneer in Northern India, green bean curry with black mustard seeds in Sri Lanka, and of course, a dahl-cious amount of lentil soups and stews, eaten with rice, chapati, or roti. One of my favorites curries was eaten in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia, a thick spicy coconut broth, rich with the spices I’ve always associated with Indian cuisine, and filled with fat rice noodles and vegetables. It was a heady blend of flavours.
I decided to marry it with the one I devour when I visit my grandparents in Vermont. Our favorite restaurant makes a Panang style curry; a thin broth, bursting with sweet coconut flavour, the heat of red curry paste, and lemongrass’ unmistakable fragrance. Served with vegetables, tofu, and vermicelli, it is quite simply, sublime. My hodge podge was born out of leftovers – roasted squash (I use sweet potatoes when starting from scratch though) which I used to thicken and sweeten the broth, coconut milk saved from two cans of coconut cream that I’d used to make vegan “whipped cream,” and cooked tofu, sliced peppers, and thai basil from a lunch of summer rolls. I always have red curry paste in the fridge, and chopped up lemongrass in the freezer since they keep forever and add such wonderful flavour to curries and marinades.
I had prepared the curry base early on in day, knowing that my friend and I were going to eat it for dinner. When the power went out at 2:16pm I was hopeful that it would come back in time. When the lights (and wifi) returned at 6:46 I was positively jovial. My friend hadn’t understood why I was so eager for the power to come back and for me to put the final touches on dinner. That changed once she took her first bite.
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cups squash/sweet potato, peeled & cubed
1 bouillon cube (onion or vegetable flavoured)
1-2 tablespoons red curry paste (two makes it tantalizingly spicy)
3 tablespoons chopped lemongrass*
1 tablespoon sugar/sweetener of choice
2.5 cups water
1 can full fat coconut milk
1/2 block firm tofu, cubed**
A few cups of chopped veggies
– Sliced carrot and pepper
– Chopped mushrooms
– Cubed eggplant
– Cauliflower florets
– Sliced zucchini or yellow summer squash…
1-2 limes, juice
Thai basil + cilantro, lots
Thick rice noodles for serving
*I love buying frozen pre-chopped lemongrass. It’s available at Asian supermarkets in blocks or tubs and it’s cheap, delicious, and so convenient. I prefer buying the blocks. That way I just need to let it thaw slightly on my counter before cutting off the amount that I need. You can of course buy fresh lemongrass, bash it, and then slice it up, but if you see it frozen, please please trust me and buy it. It’s also a phenomenal add-in to any Asian-style marinade.
**The broth is so flavourful that you can just put your tofu in without seasoning it first. However, I always think it’s a good idea to pat your tofu dry, pan fry it over medium heat, and once its crispy, splash in some tamari and add in a few chopped scallions. Cook for a few minutes until the tamari is absorbed into the tofu and the scallions are wilted and slightly browned. You can use soya sauce, but I prefer the taste of tamari.
Combine the oil, onions, and sweet potato/squash in a pot. Add a pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat for around 10 minutes or until the vegetables are lightly browned. Add the red curry paste, lemongrass, bouillon cube, and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, which will bring out the flavour in the curry paste and lemongrass. Add the water, bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low. Simmer, uncovered, for around 20 minutes or until the veggies are super soft. Blend with a hand immersion blender.
Add the coconut milk, simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered, add the juice of 1 lime and taste for seasoning. You probably need to add in a good pinch of salt. If you’re using eggplant and/or cauliflower, add them to the broth to cook for 5 minutes before adding the rest of your vegetables and tofu, which will just require 3-4 minutes to warm up.
Finish the curry with tons of fresh herbs, and serve over thick rice noodles with more herbs, and lime wedges.